Director & Producer Ryan Beickert on why branded content isn’t just a trend in the industry but an evolution of advertising altogether
This year’s PSFK series highlighting alumni of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding Program continues with Ryan Beickert, In his interview with PSFK, Beickert shares how his own ability to tell a story has evolved as a response to today’s branded content ecosystem, and how our affinity for creating memories and stories, and the communities they help build, harkens all the way back to our cave-dwelling years.
SVA’s Masters in Branding program allows students to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development, critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategies and master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity.
What made you decide to enroll in the Master’s in Branding program?
I started my career in film, so when I started working in content for marketing and advertising purposes, story always came first for me. But sometimes I would find myself making recommendations that were based on my creative gut but not substantiated beyond that. As a result clients would push back. I wanted to find a way to be empathetic with the brands and clients I was working with so I could find a creative solution that worked for everyone.
Can all producers/editors/filmmakers stand to benefit from a course in branding? How so?
Branded content is not simply a trend, it is an evolution of the advertising industry. Today the expectations of what a brand represents are so much greater than in the past. This is attributed to the efforts brands have placed in fostering closer bonds in their marketing efforts, in addition to the rise of transparency that the internet and social media provide. You often first hear uproar about a brand’s ethical or moral positioning over any buzz on the quality or utility of their actual products. News breaks faster about a brand taking a position for a particular cause before you might ever find out about a new product offering. Having the same tone-deaf conversation with everyone is equivalent to copy and pasting the same conversation to everyone on Tinder—it’s not how you stand out, and it’s certainly not how you begin an actual relationship.
In any case, producers, editors, and filmmakers have often found their financial stability in traditional commercial work in addition to feature film or television work. Branded content allows for their storytelling capacities to still shine through and for the brand to benefit from their unique creative perspectives while reaching an audience in an authentic way.
How can an expertise in branding help one’s storytelling abilities?
Branding is all about telling a story; the process of creating the persona of a brand and aligning it to a target consumer authentically involves research into art, culture, and philosophy, and being connected to the greater zeitgeist. Branding has evolved and is replicating a lot of tools and skills that have been used in traditional storytelling for a very long time. Having an expertise in how brands specifically can use these tools gives you the ability to create with the brand, opposed to just creating your own thing and finding a way to wedge a brand into your art.
In what ways have your own storytelling abilities benefited from the program?
My process has been refined dramatically. After the program I feel able to position my stories with confidence. The program shows you so many different types of frameworks, all with their own pros and cons. These frameworks allow you to efficiently get your ideas out into the world and to keep them on track, because your story is useless if you can’t find a powerful way to share it. Often in a pitch I need to tease a large story that we want to create, this is a bit of a performance but it is also a justification of why and how this story is going to align to both a brand’s goals and an audience’s appetite.
In what ways can brands stand to benefit from creating expertly branded video content? Any personal projects you can reference?
When brands tell expertly crafted branded videos they connect to their consumer in a deeper way. A relationship is built on a series of memories and stories. Storytelling has been a tool that mankind has used for over 35,000 years to provide a community with a memory or experience that they have never had before. Cave paintings provided a utility of knowing where the herd was going, and Greek tragedies provided lessons of ethics and morality. So the very act of exchanging stories is in and of itself an act of building and fostering relationships.
A well-crafted story that respects the audience will allow the brand to shine through the themes, messaging, archetypes, and values that story holds. This is not easily achieved in a 30-second ad or print campaign. At Mic we worked with McDonald’s on their very first exploration in branded content, a series focused on the ripple effect that sustainable and conscientious farming practices could have on a larger scale. This five-part series explored innovations of vertical farming in Newark, NJ to fishing practices in one of the largest fisheries in the world in Alaska. McDonald’s knows that the millennial generation has a growing concern about how their food is sourced, and to their credit they have made some massive progressive changes in their supply chains. In order to express this stance McDonald’s needed a tactic that allowed this sentiment to be expressed in an approachable and authentic tone. We achieved just that in this campaign with over 70 percent of the millennial audience finding a strong authentic engagement and a 21 percent lift in brand perception amongst the Mic audience.
If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?
Go in knowing what you are strong in and what you are not, and be open and willing to work on your weakness. Doing so will only make you stronger.
To learn more about The Masters in Branding Program, email the program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please register here to attend their open house.
This article is paid for and presented by the SVA Masters in Branding program